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Understanding the minds of others: A psycholinguistic approach to Theory of Mind

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During conversation it is often necessary to infer other peoples’ beliefs, intentions and emotions to understand and predict their behaviour (termed theory of mind- ToM). Although considerable research has examined the perception of mental states in general, conclusions on the specific processes involved in inferring, maintaining and selecting appropriate perspectives during communication have so far been limited by offline response-based methods. Further, the role of language in ‘mindreading’ tasks has only recently emerged as an important issue following neuropsychological evidence that traditional ToM brain areas are also active for linguistic coherence processes. In this talk, I will present a series of experiments that use established online techniques from psycholinguistics to examine issues such as the automaticity of belief attributions and the specific role of higher-level language (through comparisons with counterfactual conditionals) in ToM processes. Finally, I will discuss how these findings relate to evidence from social psychology in support of a gender bias in cognition.

This talk is part of the Cambridge University Linguistic Society series.

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